By David McMichael
A fan of The Format? If you’re a well-adjusted person who enjoys the good things in life – e.g., puppies, pancakes, bubble wrap – you should be. Take a second to look them up on YouTube if you don’t already have some of their music.
fun. is The Format’s Nate Ruess’ new musical odyssey – yes, the lowercase “f” and period are part of the title – and its first album, Aim and Ignite, is a delightfully confusing ride.
Be Calm, the album’s big opener, leads in with an organ grinder’s sad and haunting melody and closes with a descending spiral of strings and bassy synth; one imagines the sound slowly expanding and melting into lethargic, auditory puddles.
This gives way immediately to the poppy, choral shout introducing the album’s second track, Benson Hedges. But the snappy song transitions aren’t the band’s only way of keeping listeners from settling down.
From the beginning, you are torn between a desire to revel in the band’s upbeat instrumentation and catchy hooks and the equally strong impulse to indulge in the darker lyrics with a spoon and a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream – not that I would ever do that.
Barlights, the eighth track, is what happens when your middle school band grows up, dons skinny jeans and entertains a cameo from the Sister Act II choir. Complete with a Rebel Without a Cause reference, it is energetic and angsty and out of place, just like we were as pimply teens.
This is immediately followed by The Gambler, a strings- and keys-driven tribute to the things we hope work out in the end. Essentially optimistic, this song is refreshing in the midst of a catalogue of songs detailing what one esteemed critic called Ruess’ “complacency” and “self-loathing.”
It’s difficult to say whether Ruess’ horns and strings and little Russian instruments that no one can ever quite remember the name of are used to mask his weepy lyrics or offset them. The choice to sob or soar is left up to the listener, but either way, Aim and Ignite is worth the listen.